Do you have a child heading off to college soon? As you know from high school, today’s student needs a computer for just about everything these days. But Apple’s Mac line is sufficiently broad that it might be hard to decide which machine is most appropriate for a college-bound student. Here’s our advice.
First, don’t buy anything without first checking with the college. Many college departments have specific requirements based on the software that students have to use in their classes. Generally, these revolve around processor type, amount of RAM, and storage space. Luckily, most current Macs should meet the requirements.
Don’t worry If your child’s college department requires the use of Windows because all Macs can run Windows with no problems, either by restarting in Apple’s Boot Camp or by using virtualization software like Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion. With a Mac, you get the best of both worlds!
Colleges often specify—and students usually prefer—laptops instead of desktop machines. Although the iMac is a great machine with a gorgeous screen, it’s too big and unwieldy for the transient lifestyle of the typical college student. A laptop is much easier to pack during moves, and it can be taken out and about on campus every day. A student who’s accustomed to taking notes on an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil might be able to use that along with a desktop Mac like an iMac or a Mac mini, but most people should focus on Apple’s laptops.
- If portability is paramount, look at the MacBook. The MacBook is Apple’s smallest and lightest laptop, and it has a great Retina display. Unfortunately, it’s also the least powerful and has only a single USB-C port for charging and connection to peripherals. It costs between $1300 and $2000.
- If those prices are out of your budget, consider the MacBook Air. It lacks a Retina display and weighs almost a pound more than the MacBook—it’s still less than 3 pounds!—but it has a beefier processor, lots more ports (including Apple’s much-beloved MagSafe 2 power jack), and a lower price. Expect to pay between $1000 and $1600.
- For better performance, look to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is a touch smaller than the MacBook Air and weighs just a bit more, but features much more powerful dual-core processors, includes a gorgeous Retina display, and provides Thunderbolt 3 ports for charging and expansion. You can save a few hundred dollars by passing on Apple’s snazzy Touch Bar, which provides additional interface controls and a Touch ID fingerprint unlock button. The price of the 13-inch MacBook Pro ranges between $1300 and $3000, though it’s easy to keep it below $2500.
- The ultimate performance comes from the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which has quad-core processors and a much larger Retina screen, along with four Thunderbolt 3 ports for charging and expansion. It’s still not huge, but at 4 pounds is the heaviest of Apple’s laptops. It’s also the most expensive, with prices ranging from $2400 to over $4000 for a fully tricked-out machine.
Come in—with your college-bound student, of course!—to talk about the options, but here’s the quick summary. Go with the MacBook if size and weight are more important than speed. For maximum performance, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is the top of the line but could be heavy to lug around every day. You could compromise with the MacBook Air, which is quicker than the MacBook and smaller than the 15-inch MacBook Pro, but the sweet spot goes to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which provides the best overall combination of price, performance, and portability.